When I was a young child, every other summer my mother and brother and I would fly from our home in Birmingham to visit my grandparents in Washington State.
My favorite place in their home was their attic. It was filled with toys from my mother’s and her siblings’ childhoods. There were the Lincoln logs, the Erector set and Mousetrap game, and the Shirley Temple doll. But the best treasures were the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls mystery books, packed into a box. In the afternoons, I would curl up with one until the call for dinner came. At least, I did until the summer Grandmother said I should take them home with me.
We’d taken other toys and memorabilia home. My mother had learned early on to always have extra room in her suitcase to take home the memories of her childhood. One year there was so much she had to buy another suitcase. There was a black-haired doll in a kimono my grandfather had bought in Japan during the Korean War, photo albums of her girlhood friends and family, a cocktail dress that had belonged to her aunt, and now, finally, her childhood books. Only now they were mine.
These books became memories of our Washington summers, a seeming fantasyland where I ran free, free of the constraints of our dysfunctional home, free to explore a different world, free to be myself. Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls traveled all over the world, and so did I through their books, a constant reminder that there was more to life than what was in our house. After they came home with me, I kept them close, reading them over and over again, with so many imaginings of how life could be, bound between their covers.
And then Mom packed them away when I went off to college. Dad packed the boxes into a room in his workshop, assuring me they would be safe. They weren’t; a leaky roof ruined almost all of the books of my childhood. It was difficult for me when I held the mildewed pieces of their pages in my hands. I learned then that tangible means inevitable loss.
These books had captured my imagination, held my memories and dreams, but they were placeholders of my past and not my future. They were a bittersweet part of the process of growing up. We stopped traveling to the Northwest after I brought the books home. My grandparents died, the house was sold, the contents gone, and my pieces of it had disintegrated. But those books are why, on my dream board, hung where I can see it every day, I’ve included the words, “You’ve read about it; now live it.”